Almost all the people I know are shocked and appalled at the election of Trump. I will not rehash the autopsy, the deep analysis and commentary parsing the election. I will examine why Trump, Pence, Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, Speaker Paul Ryan and many of their wealthy supporters believe they have the true path.
Adam Smith, an 18th century Scot, political scientist and economist wrote The Wealth of Nations, often referred to as the “bible of capitalism.” Smith coined the term, “invisible hand,” that somehow by “pursuing his own self-interest” the rich benefit all of society.
The rich…are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society … Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.
Couple the writings of Smith with German Sociologist Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism who examines the theosophy of John Calvin, the concept of predestination, the concept that economic success is proof that you are one of the select, chosen by God for salvation.
Historian R. H. Tawney wrote,
Adam Smith … saw in economic self-interest the operation of a providential plan… The existing order, except insofar as the short-sighted enactments of Governments interfered with it, was the natural order, and the order established by nature was the order established by God.
Tawney, a Christian Socialist reviled what he saw as a perversion of religion,
A society which reverences the attainment of riches as the supreme felicity will naturally be disposed to regard the poor as damned in the next world, if only to justify itself for making their life a hell in this.
For centuries wealth melded with religion.
At the other end of the spectrum is Karl Marx, the antithesis of Adam Smith. (Read a comparison of Smith and Marx here).
The European depression of the 1920’s and the Great Depression began with the stock market crash of 1929 challenged long standing economic theory. The “invisible hand” did not reach down from the heavens,
FDR, assuming the presidency in 1933, in the very depths of the depression vigorously intervened; federal program after program to put the nation back to work. FDR was viewed as a savior, elected four times, who led us out of the depression as well as our leader during World War Two.
Keynesian economic theory, the government has a crucial role to play; deficit spending to create demand and put us back to work was not universally accepted.
On the other side of the coin are the followers of Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged, (1956), her magnum opus that has become the guiding light for those on the right, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.
Rand savaged the post-FDR view of the role of government that she defined as “collectivist.”
Collectivism is the tribal premise of primordial savages who, unable to conceive of individual rights, believed that the tribe is a supreme, omnipotent ruler, that it owns the lives of its members and may sacrifice them whenever it pleases.
… a philosophy of supreme self-reliance devoted to the pursuit of supreme self-interest appears to be an idealized version of core American ideals: freedom from tyranny, hard work and individualism. It promises a better world if people are simply allowed to pursue their own self-interest without regard to the impact of their actions on others. After all, others are simply pursuing their own self-interest as well.
Rand is enormously popular across college campuses today. The “hero” of Atlas Shrugged is John Gault, “… a ruthless captain of industry who struggles against stifling government regulations that stand in the way of commerce and profit. In a revolt, he and other captains of industry each close down production of their factories, bringing the world economy to its knees. ‘You need us more than we need you’ is their message.”
Do Ryan, Pence and DeVos worship statues of Gault?
The sharpest critic of our public school system is the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Freedman; in his Capitalism and Freedom (1962) Freedman laid out his views of education, views clearly at the core of the Trump/Pence/DeVos education philosophy,
Governments could require a minimum level of schooling financed by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on “approved” educational services. Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum they themselves provided on purchasing educational services from an “approved” institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions. The role of government would be limited to insuring that the schools met certain minimum standards, such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants.
With respect to teachers’ salaries, the major problem is not that they are too low on the average, but that they are too uniform and rigid. Poor teachers are grossly overpaid and good teachers grossly underpaid. Salary schedules tend to be uniform and determined far more by seniority, degrees received, and teaching certificates acquired than by merit.
If one were to seek deliberately to devise a system of recruiting and paying teachers calculated to repel the imaginative and daring, and to attract the mediocre and uninspiring, he could hardly do better than imitate the system of requiring teaching certificates and enforcing standard salary structures that has developed in the largest city and state-wide systems. It is perhaps surprising that the level of ability in elementary and secondary school teaching is as high as it is under these circumstances. The alternative system would resolve these problems and permit competition to be effective in rewarding merit and attracting ability to teaching.
I understand, and vehemently disagree with this perverse combination of philosophy, religion and a defense of ruthless aggrandizement. I am far more sympathetic to Karl Marx, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.
Thirty years ago I exchanged my apartment and lived in Paris for a month, my first trip was to the The Communards’ Wall (Mur des Fédérés) at the Pere Lachaise cemetery ”… where, on May 28, 1871, one-hundred and forty-seven fédérés, combatants of the Paris Commune, were shot and thrown in an open trench at the foot of the wall. … the wall became the symbol of the people’s struggle for their liberty and ideals.” Rationalizing the plutocracy, the oppression that has created an underclass, the use of religion to justify inequity is despicable. My ancestors lived in ghettos, oppression was their reality, pogroms a fact of life, and, those who failed to flee Europe died in the holocaust. My wife’s forbearers were transported in slave ships. We live in a nation, far from perfect; however a nation that has offered opportunity to generations of immigrants. Immigration is our life-blood; we receive the “first round draft choices” from around the world; immigration has a Darwinian aspect.
An “invisible hand” is not hovering to “save us,” greed, racism, anti-Semitism, avarice can steer our nation to anarchy, can set neighbor against neighbor. We face an uncertain future.
Pence, DeVos and Ryan worship at the altar of Rand and Freedman.
Does Trump worship at the altar of Machiavelli?